Lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles complex) are beautiful, yet venomous, coral reef fish from Indian and western Pacific oceans that have invaded East Coast waters. Ironically, this species of lionfish is popular in large saltwater aquariums because of its brilliant maroon and white stripes and fan-like fins. However, beneath the fin's delicate exterior are venomous spines that are probably used for protection against predators.
Along the southeast United States, adult lionfish have been found at depths of 85 to 300 feet from Florida to North Carolina. Juvenile lionfish have also been observed in North Carolina, Bermuda and as far north as New York. NOAA scientists conclude that the large number of adults observed and the occurrence of juveniles indicates that lionfish are established and reproducing in coastal waters along the southeast United States. Furthermore, there is evidence that lionfish numbers are increasing.
Lionfish were likely first introduced off the Florida coast in the early to mid-1990s by intentional or unintentional release from the aquarium trade, including amateur home aquariums. There is no evidence suggesting that these lionfish derived from other common invasive species sources, such as ballast water dumping from the shipping industry, live-bait use by anglers or fouling on recreational boat hulls or semi-submersible oil platforms. Although it's still too early to predict the impact lionfish will have on the Atlantic coast, the damaging impacts of other invasive species have already left their mark on too many of the nation's valuable coastal ecosystems.
NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration